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Opening Up the World Bank's Data
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Posted On April 19, 2012
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In its ongoing trajectory toward transparency, the World Bank announced on April 10, 2012, that it would make its publications open access (OA) under Creative Commons licenses. Its open access policy becomes effective on July 1, 2012. The World Bank, an international financial institution dedicated to lending money to developing nations and eradicating poverty, is also a fervent gatherer of information. Librarians and other information professionals are much more interested in the World Bank as a data source than as a lending agency. The World Bank collects data not only on economies, debt, finance, and poverty but also on health, education, urban planning, agriculture, mining, energy, and rural areas.

Open Knowledge Repository

As part of its OA initiative, the World Bank opened an Open Knowledge Repository that holds more than 2,100 annual reports, journals, working papers, books (further delineated as corporate flagships, data annuals, regional/sectoral flagships, and series), economic and sector work studies (core diagnostic reports and sector/thematic studies), and multilingual content dating from 2009 to 2012. The repository is live now. Under the new OA policy, the World Bank mandates the deposit of publications written by World Bank staff (the definition includes temporary employees and consultants) or research funded by the Bank that results in a publication be added to the repository.

Some publications, notably the journals published by Oxford Press, fall under an existing embargo arrangement. Subscribers to Oxford’s portal can access titles such as World Bank Economic Review and World Bank Research Observer immediately upon publication. At the Oxford website, you can view the tables of contents and journal abstracts for free. However, Oxford charges $32 for a 1-day view of the full text. As the World Bank adopts its OA policy, expect this relationship with Oxford to change or dissolve completely. World Bank publications that are part of the American Economic Association's EconLit database also fall under an embargo.

The Open Knowledge Repository offers both basic and advanced search. The advanced search supports filtering by title, author, publication date, topic, keyword, region, and country. Boolean logic can be used as well. The site also encourages browsing by collections, authors, publication dates, topics, and titles. Clicking on Site Statistical Information reveals the top 50 items, ranked by number of views and downloads. In the No. 1 spot is “Elderly and Old Age Support in Rural China: Challenges and Prospects,” with 2,914 views. The World Bank’s annual report clocks in at No. 15, with 135 views.

Other Openness Initiatives

When T.S. Eliot declared April to be the cruelest month in the opening lines to The Waste Land, he didn’t anticipate good news from the World Bank. Two years ago, in April 2010, the World Bank made many of its data sets free on the internet. Its open data initiative provides free access to more than 2,000 financial, business, health, economic, and human development statistics. There is a link to the data sets from the Open Knowledge Repository, as well as a Data tab on the World Bank’s homepage.

In another nod to openness, the World Bank endorsed citizen-generated geo-data. What sparked this endorsement was an ongoing debate between the World Bank and Google over who owns the date input by individuals into Google’s Map Maker tool. The World Bank has a deal with Google, announced in mid-January 2012, to provide easy access to the tool by citizens of developing countries to better monitor public services and improve humanitarian efforts, particularly in and after disaster situations. Citizens use Map Maker to input local data about locations of schools, hospitals, roads and water. Google provides the underlying data.

In a blog post, Randi Ryterman, director, Innovation and Change Management, gave the World Bank’s “guiding principle” regarding citizen-generated geo-data—“if the public helps to collect or create map data, the public should be able to access, use, and re-use that data freely.”

Subscription Databases Remain

For those libraries subscribing to the World Bank eLibrary database, the news about its opening up its data was accompanied by the somewhat jarring realization that eLibrary would remain a subscription item, unaffected by the OA policy. According to the World Bank’s senior publishing officer, marketing manager, Jose de Buerba, the functionality of eLibrary warrants its remaining fee-based.

Citing its inclusion of MARC records, ability to personalize content alerts and bookmarking content, and lack of embargo on journals, de Buerba also said that the World Bank intends to launch an enhanced version later in 2012. The new version of eLibrary will be XML based and will allow mobile access. Searchers will be able to access books and reports by chapter, table, or figure; to build custom ebooks to use as course packs; to create alerts; and to bookmark content.

He also noted that eLibrary is indexed by the major library discovery systems. Many items in the repository are also available in subscription databases from EBSCO, Wiley, and others.

The subscription price, which has not been set, covers functionality rather than content, although the content in the World Bank eLibrary dates from earlier  than the 2009 date for its Open Knowledge Repository, which contains only about one-third of the content in eLibrary. As more of the back file is added to the repository, however, this ratio will shrink. New content will be added to both products simultaneously.

New President

Not all the news from the World Bank centers on OA. On April 16, 2012, Dr. Jim Yong Kim was selected as the new president of the World Bank, to take office on July 1, 2012. Kim, who holds both an MD and a PhD (in anthropology), leaves his current position as president of Dartmouth College to take up the World Bank post.

Kim is a co-founder of Partners in Health and a former director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization. He has written scholarly articles and policy commentaries that have been published both by for-profit publications (New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, and Science) and OA  publications (Bulletin of the World Health Organization and PLoS Medicine).

Given Kim's background, it’s extremely likely that he will thoroughly understand and approve of the World Bank's commitment to OA.

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May 24, 2012 update: World Bank Live Event Report: Open Access Policy and Development


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search Summit.

Email Marydee Ojala
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